Tenno Tanjobi: A National Holiday Celebrating The Emperor’s Birthday | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

Tenno Tanjobi: A National Holiday Celebrating The Emperor’s Birthday

By Margherita Feb 22, 2022

February 23rd in the current Reiwa period – a period starts when a new Emperor ascends to the throne – is a national holiday that celebrates “tenno tanjobi” (天皇誕生日), the Emperor’s birthday.

The Current Emperor: Naruhito

The current Japanese Emperor is Naruhito, who will turn 62 on February 23rd. Naruhito ascended to the throne in 2019, on May 1st, after his father, the former Emperor Akihito decided to step down – making it the first abdication in over 200 years and marking the transition to the beginning of the new Reiwa period.

He then moved to the imperial residence in 2020 and has been living there with his wife since. But when did the Emperor’s birthday become a national holiday?

When Did the Celebration of the Emperor’s Birthday Start?

The Emperor’s birthday was celebrated for the first time and subsequently was instituted as a national holiday in 1886 with Emperor Meiji, who was born on November 3rd.

Before World War II, ”tenno tanjobi” was known as “tenchosetsu” (天長節), a term which had a strong relation to the political role and divine nature of the Emperor. After the war, the new government had to use a more neutral term following the “downsizing” of the figure of the tennō (天皇 emperor) imposed by the American occupying army, and the more casual “Emperor’s birthday” denomination was adopted.

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Credit: Canva

It also often happens that upon the death of the tennō, the day of his birthday is maintained as a holiday by simply changing its name. Emperor Meiji’s birthday has become “Bunka no Hi” (文化の日 Culture Day), which is celebrated on November 3rd. Emperor Hirohito, also known as Emperor Showa, was born on April 29th. Does this date sound familiar? Today “Showa Day” (昭和の日) is celebrated as a national holiday on the same day!

After a long time – remember that Akihito has been Emperor for over 30 years – December 23rd went back to being a normal weekday, and many think that Akihito’s birthday, just as it happened before to his predecessor, might become a newly added “Heisei Day”.

How is The Day Celebrated in Japan?

The Emperor’s birthday together with New Year is the only time where general visitors are admitted within the grounds of the Imperial Palace located in Chiyoda. The Emperor would come to greet the audience gathered inside the park from a balcony once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

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Photo credit: Colton Jones (Unsplash)

The entrance is free and usually small Japanese flags are distributed for the audience to wave to celebrate and greet the Emperor, as a symbol of the country.

Unfortunately, for the third year in a row, as a measure to prevent the spread of Omicron, the ceremony has been suspended.

What Do the Japanese Think About This National Holiday?

In a country where paid leave is quite low, national holidays are very much loved and Japan, despite being considered a very work-focused society and infamous for overwork-related social problems, is one of the countries with the most national holidays in the world.

Emperor Akihito’s birthday, falling on December 23rd was particularly appreciated by the generation under 30 thanks to its proximity to the Christmas holidays.

How are you going to spend the Emperor’s birthday and take advantage of this extra day off work this year?

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Featured image credit: Julie Ann Gerrido (Unsplash)